The popularity of Richard Hatfield, who had served as a popular premier from 1970 through the 1982 election, fell due to scandals in his last term. In 1984, during an official visit to New Brunswick by Queen Elizabeth II, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers found marijuana in Hatfield's luggage. Hatfield was later acquitted of marijuana possession charges. As reported by the media, Hatfield was also alleged to have hosted parties with young men where illegal drugs were used . He was criticized by opposition parties and by the media for extravagant use of the government plane, which he used to travel to New York City where he visited night clubs, earning him the nickname "Disco Dick".
Hoping to boost his popularity enough to avoid defeat, Hatfield delayed calling the election as long as possible. It was finally held on October 13, 1987, five years and a day since the last election—the longest allowed by the Constitution of Canada. Hatfield lost every seat, including his own. He took full responsibility for the defeat. He announced his resignation the night of the election while being interviewed by media outside of his Hartland home, where he had been abandoned by his supporters early in the evening as the returns began to come in.
Frank McKenna's Liberals were virtually assured victory from day one, thanks to Hatfield's scandals, but ran a very successful campaign allowing them to sweep the province. The New Democrats also suffered a moral defeat, losing their one seat—something they had won for the first time in 1982.